Philippine Islands: Boracay Snorkeling/Island Hopping

21 Jun

Philippine Islands: Boracay Snorkeling/Island Hopping June 21, 2011

Warning! Due to the requests and constant nagging of my friends, this blog is picture heavy so you might have to let it load the pictures first!!!
When we arrived in Boracay and checked into our beach front westernized hotel room (yaay you can flush toilet paper down the toilet and you don’t have to squat over a bowl and dump water down with a big tupperware to flush it!!) we hit the beach and were bombarded by peddlers. “Sir, Maam you want to go snorkel? ATV? Glass bottom boat?”. This happens about every ten or so feet in Boracay by the way but you get used to it after a while. We wandered around the white sand beach and ended up at a small booth where the people weren’t harassing us. It was called Allan B. Funtour. The lady (Ms. Rose) was really polite and wasn’t pushy like the peddlers by our hotel. I was already skeptical because I had read about the tour operators beforehand and people claimed they were deceitful about up front costs. The stated cost was 700 pesos/head but we bargained her down to 650 pesos (about $14.83) per person, that included lunch but not the 20 peso fee for entry to the snorkeling reserve or the 200 peso island entry fee, both of these extra fees were told to us up front. We told her we’d check the weather (it had been thunderstorming the last few days) and then call her back. Since the Philippines is considered the text capital of the world (I shit you not, everyone does business by text here, texts cost .02 cents each! If you visit here you want to get a extra phone with a simcard and local number) we texted her during dinner and she promptly responded that we’d be picked up at 9:30 the next morning.

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After our simple breakfast (most of the nicer hotels here offer free breakfast with your room) R3Tmn.tiffPMk1K.tiff

we gathered our gear and headed down to our outdoor lobby. In short time Ray (Ms. Roses husband) came by and led us to the area where the boats leave.

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We signed the manifest and headed out to meet the boat.

Most of the boats in the Philippines are…well…umm… how can I put this delicately? They are pieces of crap. Don’t let this deter you, then run really well and the captains are excellent at docking/piloting them. They aren’t like boats in the US, and I’m sure they’d never pass the coast guard inspection in California but they are sea worthy. They look a lot like a big canoe with a giant diesel engine under it and two outriggers made out of bamboo. To get on them you walk on a six inch wide piece of timber but the guides there stabilize it and you’ll have no problem getting on the boat, not even the lameo out of shape tourists fell in the water.

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We sat on benches and the captain fired up the boat and took us to our first snorkeling spot, a place near Crocodile Island (there are no crocodiles there, don’t be a wimp). There is a ranger there that paddles to each boat and collects the 20 peso fee from you and then he paddles to the next boat. While you are anchored there (actually they don’t anchor they tie up to buoys so they don’t destroy the reef) guys will paddle up in even smaller canoes with fresh buko juice (that’s coconut juice in the shell)

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that you can buy if you didn’t bring anything to drink (bring water, probably a quart or so because you will pee a lot when you snorkel, I know I do). While everyone was slowly putting on their gear I slipped on my fins and pulled my mask on and slipped in from the back of the boat. By the way I brought my own mask, snorkel, and fins but the boat will provide you with a mask and snorkel. If you are a decent snorkeler (most tourists are not) and are comfortable in the water you are going to want fins so bring your own if you have them.

The water was warm, about 84 degrees or so and fairly clear. You don’t have to worry about it being deep because it’s a whopping ten feet deep or so at most of the spots here and there are tons of fish around. Most of them are small, damsel type fish but if you take your time and check out the deeper areas there was a ton of other life around. My wife isn’t as adventurous as I am and she was content just floating on top with her mask on and I’d tow her around to the more abundant reefs. Most of the visitors cling onto ropes near the boat but the further you go away the more stuff you are going to see, just make sure you listen carefully for other boats and are aware of your surroundings.

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I found some deeper reefs and kicked down and made drops to the bottom and cautiously peeked under the reefs (you don’t want to touch or step on coral because you’ll kill it, not only that but one time I brushed against some fire coral in the Caribbean and quickly figured out how it got it’s name). I saw tubesnouts doing some dance where hundreds of them were upside down and drifted in unison. There was a variety of different types of beautiful starfish (purple ones too!) RNlaN.tiff

and even some variety of bright lime green basket stars INiAL.tiff

in the reef. It was sad that much of the reef was dead, in most of the areas I’ve visited so far I’d say a good 95% of the reefs have been dynamited or hit with cyanide (a destructive way to collect tropical fish is to use cyanide or bleach) and you’ll come across acres of dead coral heads, bleached out by the sun. Much of this reef was dead too but not as bad as others and it’s definitely coming back. I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s like the great barrier reef but there are plenty of areas that glowed purple, green, blues etc with life and someday if they keep taking care of this reef it’s going to be absolutely breathtaking.

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I made drop after drop and saw different types of fish on every reef. We saw a lot of live anemones making gigantic carpets about three feet wide and amongst them were species of clownfish diving into their tentacles. CbKFu.tiff

The bigger clownfish would rush me to try to scare me away while the smaller ones would eye me and then dive back into the safety of the anemone tentacles.

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I saw angelfish, lizardfish, damsels, tangs, baby grouper, filefish, triggerfish, and many other fish that I can’t even identify (just because I’m a marine biologist doesn’t mean that I know everything about the ocean you dufus).

L6IQA.tiff F54aJ.tiffWYJab.tiff  I was hoping to see some sea turtles or cuttlefish but didn’t spot any. All too soon the captain blew his whistle and I reluctantly returned to the boat. You get about 45 minutes at each snorkeling spot which is plenty for the general tourist, but on most of my freedives at home I’m in the water 8-10 hours so it seemed way too short to me!

Our next destination was a private island that had two caves in it.

IgMay.tiff It costs 200 pesos (about $4.50) to enter the main part of the island. If you don’t want to pay that fee you can just relax at the beach but the boat is beached there for 1.5 hours. I’ve heard different things about whether or not it was worth it but I’ll settle the claims right now. It’s most definitely worth it, even to an uncultured ignoramus like myself :)!

You first walk down a path that leads to several towers you can take pictures from. At first I was thinking “shit is this it? My money paid for this crap?” But I took some pictures of the breathtaking views and then saw the signs pointing to the first of the two caves.

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You have to walk down a kind of spiral cement staircase to get to them.

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Let me give you a spoiler alert if you are huge. If you are huge, say 300 pounds this tour isn’t for you. It’s a tight squeeze down that ladder! But when you get to the base of it, the cave is absolutely beautiful.gfd4B.tiff<n3OgN.tiff   There are several island staff there to take pictures for you with your camera. You can also swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the cave which leads to outside. I had brought my fins and mask with me and the guides asked me my swimming ability and I assured them I was comfortable in the water so they let me swim out of the cave. You have to be careful because even in the clear water if you aren’t watching your head it’s easy to get trapped under the undercuts or give yourself a nasty cut! EqUnP.tiff

Outside there were a lot of live coral reefs and some fish, cvErZ.tiff

just kicking in the crystal clear water was fun.

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We spent a lot of time in there and then did a short hike to the next cave

Cave 2 was a bit different. You had to walk down a well paved trail down a cliff that led to a bamboo bridge. This picture is upside down even though I corrected it, for some reason the ecto program is reading it wrong.LsV3M.tiff

From there you grab a rope and walk thru the water (it’s not deep, maybe four to five feet)

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thru the mouth of the cave and it leads to a small sandy beach (this is all INSIDE the cave)

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with a four foot hole in the wall. This is some sort of lava chute that has been worn smooth over the years with the water running through it, you climb on your hands and knees or duck down and walk thru it for about fifty feet and it drops you into the next cave. Since I have the tender feet like a baby (dude I told my wife I need to start running in the street barefoot again like when I was a kid) I winced since I left my slippers on the bridge. It was mighty painful as I walked/crawled thru crushed coral to get to the opening of the next cave.

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It was also worth it, the lava there is all smooth and drops you into another deep pool that you can swim in. There was even an area shaped like a lounge chair that we took pictures in!

 Vl167.tiff We swam and took so many pictures there that the guides had to come and get us to take us to the next spot.

The next spot was for lunch. Once again skeptical because of the bad reviews I had read I was thinking I was going to be hungry. On contrary! It is a bbq buffet style lunch. They had grilled/steamed veggies, cut cucumbers, bbqed shrimp, bbqed teriyaki beef, and bbqued chicken, bbqed fish, rice, watermelon and probably a few things I forgot. YgWvB.tiff

Plus all you can drink BOTTLED SODA (glass bottled soda is my favorite, if you haven’t had any it makes soda out of the fountain or can or bottle taste like soda from the sewer, glass soda is so much fresher and crisper). We ate like kings and chatted and I fed some of the leftovers to the stray dogs in the area.

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Stray dogs are the worst part about the Philippines, (except maybe for having to use a toilet that isn’t westernized and is basically a bowl that leads to a hole in the ground). I always feel bad for the stray dogs and I feed them whatever leftovers I can. Don’t bother giving me your philosophy because if you’ve read any of my other blogs you know by now IDGAF and you should STFU while you are ahead. Lunch took about an hour or so and then we made our way back to the boat. Along the way we watched the local kids showing off and doing backflips in the water off the outriggers on our boats, it was pretty entertaining!

Our next stop was yet a different reef around the island. It was deeper here in some spots and had less fish but it definitely had the most live coral I’ve seen yet. All kinds of coral were coming back here along with the usual suspect fish. The highlight for me wasn’t even the fish though, it was making deeper drops to about 25 feet and taking pictures of all the colors!

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I saw some baby giant clams but was disappointed that I couldn’t find any bigger ones.

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I saw live brain coral, all kinds of other corals in so many colors I couldn’t describe them all.

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Once again it was all too soon when the whistle blew and once again I found myself the last one climbing back onto the boat.

Our last spot was supposed to be at puka shell beach but it had been so windy and rough on the front side that they dropped us off in a very secluded cove.

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We hopped down the gangplank and went onto the white sand beach. The water here was very clear but I had left my mask and snorkel on the boat because Lea and I just wanted to enjoy our time in the water and beach. YhK4w.tiff

This seemed to be one of Lea’s favorite spots because she just kicked back on the beach and had an area that was entirely her own.

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I swam for a bit and then walked the shell line, there were some puka shells (those are generally shells with holes in them, puka is Hawaiian slang for “hole”) around as well as other pieces of coral. But what really interested me was a six inch piece of cuttebone I found!!

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Cuttlebone is the inside “pen” of a cuttlefish, it gives it some buoyancy and rigidity and you only see it well after the squidlike animal has died. I found several pieces and right away was disappointed that I had left my mask and snorkel on the boat because I figured that the cuttlefish had been mating nearby in the grass beds and I might have had a chance to see them alive or maybe at least their eggs (like most cephalopods, cutttlefish, squid, and octopus are short lived and die shortly after egg laying). Unfortunately it was time to go and we boarded the boat for the last time and headed back to the port. Our six hours went by like it was six minutes!

This is just a side note about our adventure. I am no way sponsored by the Allan B. Funtour Island Hopping excursion but I felt I should give them props for their hard work and because I had read a few bad reviews about them. When we were asking questions about the tour they were very upfront and honest about any extra charges and what to expect. The whole thing only cost us 870 pesos (about 20$ us) and that’s with all the permits and fees and the whole trip lasted six hours! Lunch alone was worth 10$ and their staff really went out of the way to help people out. Some folks online complained about having to pay the 200 pesos ($4.50) to visit the island but to me that was to pay for the extra staff on the island who were helping us out and taking pictures and answering our lameo questions. I was very impressed with their operation and if you should go with them think about leaving a small tip in the tip box on the boat. The three staff working the boat also were very very helpful and many times they asked us if we wanted them to take pictures of us when we were doing activities. The average salary of most of these guys is under 8$ a day and they were busting their ass wayyyyy more than anyone in the states would have, giving them an extra dollar or two isn’t going to break you :). I’d highly recommend them and should we ever visit this particular island again we’ll contact them.

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4 Responses to “Philippine Islands: Boracay Snorkeling/Island Hopping”

  1. Bubbles June 28, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Hi! Chanced upon your post and liked it. I went with the same tour operator too and its a really nice recap of my experience there. Haha. 🙂 Agreed that the captain and crews were really helpful. Didn’t have chance to catch the name of the captain though. Just wondering if you have any idea? (I believe he’s the one with the yellow headband. :P)

    • oakpwr June 29, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

      Thanks! Yah we were talking about that, the captains name was like Juan or Jon. They were working really hard, I’ll definitely use that outfit again. The boat capt also runs a a atv rental.

  2. STUART / CEL October 19, 2011 at 10:33 pm #

    Just arrived boracay from england

    Bloody brillant info..trying to bool now

    Warning so many places everythong over-priced

    Stay strong and dpnt pau these prices..you will destory for all other tourist in the future

    We have been quoted fora day island hopping 8000phs …and them read your blog 800phs

    • oakpwr October 20, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      Hope all goes well on your trip Stuart, have fun and bargain with them when you can!

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